30 April 2015

#ShelfLove No Book Buying Challenge: Avoiding Relapse


I skipped March’s monthly No Book Buying Challenge post topic because first I was sick and then I had a little surgery and then I was so strung out on feel-good drugs (seriously, percocet is my pharmacological bff and we’re going to get matching tattoos that say “pain is the mind killer” because fuck stoicism) that I couldn’t have written anything coherent. It would have been something like “Libraries. Free books at libraries. Ebooks. Good. Free, too. And audiobooks. Get them.”

Anyway ... on to April’s post topic! How am I sticking to my book buying budget and refraining from full-on bookaholic relapse? Umm ... have you seen my Amazon shopping cart? That’s how I cope. I just add things to the cart for the day I can buy them. January 1 is only 245 days away, you know. Currently there are eleventy-million bookish items in my cart. If I’m smart, I’ll wishlist them and browbeat gently encourage my family to purchase them for my birthday and Christmas ...

Also, I remind myself that abstaining from bringing new books into the house frees me from the stress caused by shelf panic. You know, that tight feeling you get in your chest when you realize there’s no room in your house for new books unless you remove some old ones. (And then there’s also the guilt. Guilt over all the money I’ve spent -- or others have spent for me -- on books I haven’t read).

This isn’t to say I haven’t bought any books in 2015 – I picked up two pretties in England and preordered Rat Queens, Vol 2: The Far Reaching Tentacles Of N’Rygoth because SO MUCH FUN -- but that’s a lot fewer than I’d purchased by this time last year!

29 April 2015

My Mom's Oven Ribs

So, clever girl that I am, I got my mom to e-mail me her recipe for baked ribs! I'm confused about how simple her recipe is -- just two ingredients. I remember thinking these ribs were the absolute best when I was a child, but as an adult I find myself think "Kraft barbecue sauce? Really, Mom?" because I am a total food snob now. Also, dude, that stuff's full of sugar. But ... her ribs were sooo good, so might as well try it Mom's way before I go tweaking it:
Bone-in country-stye pork ribs and Kraft original barbecue sauce -- use the whole bottle. I pour the sauce all over the tops of the ribs. Cover the pan with foil. Bake at 350°F oven 1½ hrs. The last 15 mins, uncover the pan so they get brown. [I uncovered mine, basted them with juices, and broiled them for the last 5 minutes for guaranteed browning].


And, you know, the ribs turned out pretty good. Not quite as good as I remember from my childhood, but good enough that we had seconds! We ate them with garlicky green beans and olive oil potatoes and ... omnomnom.


I made the olive oil mashed potatoes using Fresh Sides' recipe for "8 Minute Yellow Mashed Potatoes," which uses heart-healthy olive oil to make a dish that is still as tasty and flavorful as my usual milk-and-butter mash. It's an easy recipe -- just chop the bagged potatoes, mix them with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and rosemary, and microwave. Definitely worth making again.

Wordless Wednesday: Stanley Park

Grecian temple-style bandstand and amphitheatre with Cocker clock tower in the distance.

Swan has no time for wannabes.

More swans. No doubt wondering why we haven't brought them tribute.

28 April 2015

Top 10 Tuesday: Redheaded Heroines


This week's Top Ten Tuesday is a fill-in-the-blank -- top ten books which feature characters who X. I went with ten(ish) books featuring redheaded heroines, because I've always loved red hair. There's just something about a redheaded snippet with a sword that makes my heart go zing. Unsurprisingly, nearly all the stories I wrote as a young 'un featured redheaded heroines.

  1. Amelia Bedelia, the title character of Peggy Parish's Amelia Bedelia books. I'm not sure she's ever described as having red hair (I read the books waylongtimeago, after all, but I remember she was redheaded in the illustrations).
  2. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. Anne, my very first redheaded literary crush.
  3. Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles. Princess "Eilonwy of the red-gold hair" was perhaps more a strawberry-blonde than true redhead, but whatevs.
  4. The Hero and The Crown by Robin McKinley. "Aerin Firehair" inherited her Northern mother's pale skin and fiery hair, marking her as other and, therefore, suspect.
  5. Deerskin by Robin McKinley. Lissla Lissar is the spitting image of her mother, right down to her "mahogany-black, red-black, like the last, deepest drop of heart's blood, brought to light only by violent death" hair, until she meets the Moonwoman.
  6. The eponymous Gemma of Libba Bray’s A Great & Terrible Beauty with her "freckled skin and unruly mane of red hair."
  7. Raederle of An from Patricia McKillip’s Heir of Sea and Fire (Riddle-Master trilogy). Daughter of King Mathom of An with a "long, fine mass of red hair" and a gift for magic.
  8. Alanna from Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness. She and her twin brother both have red hair and violet eyes. Clearly, she is destined for greatness.

Okay, that's only eight. That's a sad list. Help me out, O Bookish Ones.

24 April 2015

Agatha Raisin & the Quiche of Death


“What a horrible woman.” That’s pretty much what I kept muttering to myself while reading Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death. She just so ARROGANT and SELF-CENTERED and generally AWFUL that I couldn’t possibly see how there could be so many more books in the series. And then I came to the end of the book and had to admit Agatha, a wee bit reformed, was showing genuine promise as a human being. Or maybe I’d just been numbed by all her awfulness.

Seriously, excluding a few characters (mostly, the vicar’s wife and the kitten), I would gladly have poisoned everyone in the book (and certainly got away with it as Carsley’s constabulary are a bit thick). Many of the bits that I think were supposed to be quirky or funny, just irritated me. I really resented the treatment of Roy, who first comes across as a horribly stereotypically flamboyant gay man, and then morphs into an equally horribly stereotypical Essex man. (I guess I should say “Well done, Beaton, for that surprise switch! Pulled a fast one of me! Aren’t I ashamed for thinking you meant Roy to be a flaming f—?” but I AM TOO ANNOYED).

Never again, Agatha Raisin. NEVER.

Agatha Raisin & the Quiche of Death (Agatha Raisin, Book 1) by M.C. Beaton (St. Martin's, 2006)

Easy Baked Hoisin Pork Chops

The Husband pointed out we hadn't had pork in a while and I may have overbought pork in response. We have eaten pork recently -- the slow cooker country-style ribs weren't that long ago, after all. But, whatevs, I like to make what he likes because Twu Luv &etc. Or something like that.


I used coconut aminos in this recipe, but you could use soy sauce for similar results. I've been using coconut aminos instead of soy sauce for the past year or so, mostly because I'd bought a bottle for a specific recipe and not wanted to waste the rest considering how much more expensive it is! Coconut aminos are also considerably lower in sodium than even the lowest sodium soy sauce I used to buy and the flavors are close enough for cooking.


Hoisin Baked Pork Chops

Yield: 3

Ingredients

  • ½ cup hoisin sauce
  • 2 tsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp coconut aminos (or soy sauce)
  • ½ Tbsp sriracha
  • 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • ½ tsp powdered ginger
  • 3 boneless pork chops
  • 2 scallions, chopped

Instructions

  1. In a bowl whisk together hoisin sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, coconut aminos, sriracha, garlic, and ginger.
  2. With a very sharp knife, score the pork chops with an ⅛-inch deep crisscross pattern on both sides to help the marinade penetrate.
  3. Place pork chops in plastic bag or storage bowl. Pour marinade over the chops and shake to coat. Cover and marinate in the fridge overnight.
  4. Preheat oven to 400°F. Plop chops into a baking dish and bake, uncovered, for 12 minutes or until they're flirting with 145°F.
  5. Set oven to broil and broil for about 3 minutes for a crispier, browner chop. Serve garnished with chopped scallions.

22 April 2015

Slow Cooker Salsa Swiss Steak

Sometimes, I basically just type the contents of my kitchen into "the Google" and see what I get. This week, I got Betty Crocker's delicious "Slow-Cooker Salsa Swiss Steak."


I used a bag of frozen sliced peppers and onions instead of fresh, but otherwise followed the recipe to a T with pretty tasty results. The meat was as tender as pot roast and the sauce was rich and flavorful ... but, I admit, it could have used a couple cloves of garlic. What isn't improved by a little garlic, though?

Wordless Wednesday: Holiday Snaps

Central Pier and Blackpool Tower

Looking toward Blackpool Tower from North Pier

Looking toward Central Pier

21 April 2015

Top 10 Tuesday: Favorite Authors


For this week's Top Ten Tuesday, we're supposed to write about our Top Ten ALL TIME Favorite Authors ... but it's hard to get just ten, so I've limited my list just to female science fiction writers and it's not as if that list wanted to be short, either, just shorter.

So, here's a purely arbitrary favorite ten eleven plus some recommended titles/series:
  • Ann Leckie
  • Imperial Radch trilogy
  • CJ Cherryh
  • Alliance-Union universe & Foreigner universe series
  • Elizabeth Moon
  • Planet Pirates series & Speed of Dark
  • James Tiptree, Jr. (aka Alice Sheldon)
  • Her Smoke Rose Up Forever
  • Joanna Russ
  • "When It Changed" & The Female Man


  • Justina Robson
  • Natural History & Silver Screen
  • Karen Traviss
  • Wess'har Wars series
  • Margaret Atwood
  • Oryx and Crake trilogy & The Handmaid's Tale
  • Marge Piercy
  • He, She and It & Woman on the Edge of Time
  • Sheri Tepper
  • Arbai trilogy & Singer from the Sea
  • Ursula K LeGuin
  • The Lathe of Heaven & Hainish Cycle series

17 April 2015

Succulent & Savory Slow Cooker Country-Style Ribs

My mom used to bake bone-in country-style pork spare ribs in her big blue and white flowered Corningware dutch oven that, I swear, were so tender and succulent that they just fell off the bone. We'd eat them with peas and mashed potatoes covered in the thick, rich tomato-y gravy.

And I do not have her recipe. And I wanted to use a slow cooker, anyway. So I turned to the Internets and found a delicious-sounding recipe at The Southern Lady Cooks. I added a couple dashes of liquid smoke, as one of the commenters suggested, and let the ribs soak overnight in the sauce before I put everything in the slow cooker.

So my best shot was potato-centric :( They were good garlicky mashed potatoes, though.
This is really my favorite kind of slow cooker recipe -- just dump everything in the slow cooker, go away for a good long time, come back to pure unmitigated delicousness.

Saucy ingredients ;)
The ribs were very good -- tender, flavorful, and falling off the bone. The Husband thought they were a little messy, but ribs can be. My only complaint was that I thought they could use a little heat -- maybe a squirt of sriracha in with the other sauce ingredients next time.

Tender, fall-apart ribs.
And, of course, I still need to get my Mom's recipe!


Tainted Angel


During the Napoleonic war the British government recruits toothsome young women as “angels” -- special agents who seduce information from the unwitting enemy. Vidia's mission is to spy on a very wealthy man who has the power sink the British economy. But soon Vidia’s colleagues suspect she’s double-crossing them and working for Brodie. And, maybe, she is. Or isn’t. It’s, frankly, impossible to tell as everyone engages in a very dangerous (and, at times, quite sexy) game of cat-and-mouse.

Loaded Tainted Angel onto my Kindle before going on holiday and it turned out to be just the sort of read I needed to get me through a five hour flight. Tainted Angel is a fun, romantic romp through Regency London with lots of cross-and-double-cross cloak-and-dagger type espionage. I wasn’t always sure what was going on --the author sees fit to let you figure out things as you go and Vidia isn’t the most forthcoming protagonist when it comes to her past adventures -- but I found I didn’t care very much. Eventually, I would know what Vida was up to and all would be well. In the meantime, I just enjoyed the journey.

I greatly enjoyed Vidia’s interaction with her maid, Maisie, and only wish there was more of it. The Dokes’s surprise twist was great fun and I hope she gets a book of her own ... if this is going to be a series and I have absolutely no reason to think that! (I know, I’m anti-series only until it suits me not to be). Indeed, nearly all of the characters were delightful -- even the villains, whoever they might be.

Tainted Angel by Anne Cleeland (SourceBooks, 2013). AZW file.

15 April 2015

Quick Roasted Salmon Fillet

Since I used Penzey's Sunny Paris salt-free seasoning blend, which is comprised of dehydrated shallots, chives, green peppercorn, dill weed, basil, tarragon, chervil and bay leaf, I'm tempted to call this "Parisian salmon." But that sounds like I'm trying too hard!


Quick Roasted Salmon

Servings: 2

Ingredients

  • 2 6 oz portions skinned boneless salmon fillet
  • olive oil
  • sea salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • Penzey's Sunny Paris salt-free blend

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425˚F.
  2. Pour a little olive oil into the bottom of a baking dish or pie plate. Place the salmon fillets in a baking dish and rub around in the oil, flipping to make sure both sides are coated.
  3. Season generously with salt, pepper, and Sunny Paris. Bake 12 minutes or until fish has reached 145°F flakes easily with a fork.
We ate the salmon over Sidemates Tuscan Medley pearl couscous with steamed veggies and it was pretty darn tasty. The salmon was moist and flaky and omnomnom.

Wordless Wednesday: More Daffodils

Someone's been picking daffodils at the park.

14 April 2015

Silas Marner, Part Two: Chapters XVI - Conclusion

Sixteen years have passed since Silas Marner found a golden-haired child at his hearthside. He is very much a different man from the one who tore into the Rainbow, desperate for the return of his gold. And Eppie? All grown up now and quite beautiful in all the ways that matter most. Twice Eppie's biological father has suggested to his childless wife that they adopt a her, and twice his wife has refused his whim, ignorant there is a particular reason to want Eppie.

But then the squire's shiftless son, missing all these years, is found! Or, rather his body is found, and there can be no doubt it was he who had stolen Silas' money. Eppie's father, finally accepting that secrets will out, tells his wife about his prior marriage and unrecognized daughter. Together, they approach Silas and Eppie about adopting the girl and securing her a better future than Silas ever could. But Eppie, darling Eppie, refuses. She will not leave her dad or the life she has always known. The wealthy-and-socially-well-placed-but-childless couple try to sway her, but are rebuffed and withdraw. And then Eppie marries her own true love in a quiet country wedding and everyone that matters lives happily ever after! Amen.

I have to say that, having read Silas Marner alongside two Charlotte Bronte novels, I find Eliot's blend of Realism and Romanticism quite refreshing. Bronte's writing can become quite overwrought and impenetrable when she touches on religion and Eliot, while she seems to share many of the same opinions, manages to make her points more clearly and, perhaps, more kindly. (I say that having read all of one Eliot novel -- I understand I may be very very wrong about her).

Silas Marner is my second selection for the 2015 Back to the Classics and No Book Buying reading challenges. I claim it as "A Classic with a Person's Name in the Title" for Back to the Classics.

Silas Marner by George Eliot (Harper & Row, 1965)

Top 10 Tuesday: Inspiring Quotations


This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is inspiring quotes from books. This topic brought back such a wave of nostalgia -- as a child and teen, I kept a series of notebooks where I very carefully copied down my favorite book quotes in purple ink. (Purple being my favorite color at the time, you know). Regrettably, I tossed all those notebooks in college, when I decided they were slightly embarrassing evidence of my nerdy childhood.

Sigh.

To the quotes!

“In a world as wrong as this one, all we can do is make things as right as we can.”
― Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees

“Do not give way to useless alarm; though it is right to be prepared for the worst, there is no occasion to look on it as certain.”
― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

“Well, we all make mistakes, dear, so just put it behind you. We should regret our mistakes and learn from them, but never carry them forward into the future with us.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea

“If cats looked like frogs we'd realize what nasty, cruel little bastards they are. Style. That's what people remember.”
― Terry Pratchett, Lords and Ladies

“No matter what I do, no matter how predictable I try to make my life, it will not be any more predictable than the rest of the world. Which is chaotic.”
― Elizabeth Moon, The Speed of Dark

“Nothing limits intelligence more than ignorance; nothing fosters ignorance more than one's own opinions; nothing strengthens opinions more than refusing to look at reality.”
― Sheri S. Tepper, The Visitor

“We are made of the stuff of stars, given our lives by a living world, given our selves by time. We are brother to the trees and sister to the sun. We are of such glorious stuff we need not carry pain around like a label. Our duty, as living things, to be sure that pain is not our whole story, for we can choose to be otherwise. As Ellin says, we can choose to dance.”
― Sheri S. Tepper, Six Moon Dance

“Life isn't fair, it's just fairer than death, that's all.”
― William Goldman, The Princess Bride

“A Clock is not time; it's numbers and springs. Pay it no mind.”
― Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn

“There's so much wonder in the world. Don't let no one tell you otherwise.”
― Patrick Ness, The Knife of Never Letting Go

12 April 2015

Delightful, Decadent Chip Butty

Way back when The Husband was still just The Sexy Spod I Gave Up Sleep to Chat With, I used to visit him on summer break. He had a job, so I was largely left to my own devices during the weekday. Namely, this meant visiting libraries and book shops for reading materials and then settling down for a good read in a sunny public garden or park somewhere. (In retrospect, it's clear these visits set the style for all my later adult holidays -- I just want to sit around in the sun, looking at nature, reading books and eating tasty things).

Anyway, it was during my first summer visit that Future The Husband introduced me to chip butties. A chip butty or chip barm is a delectable sandwich made from a liberally buttered floury bap ("large soft white roll") and fresh, hot chips ("french fries"). Imho, the chips should be liberally salted and drizzled with malt vinegar, but The Husband must put ketchup on it. Regardless, it is a delicious, decadent treat I now look forward to eating once every trip.

Somedays, there's nothing in the world so good as a chip butty.
This chip butty, from Seniors Fish & Chip Shop at Lytham, was a pretty good example of its kind. The bap was as floury and soft as a this woman could want and the chips, hot from the fryer, were all crispy goodness on the outside and soft fluffy potato on the inside. The Husband felt the bap needed more butter and, from a purist's point of view, he was right but what with the bap soaking up all the chip grease, vinegar, and ketchup I was a happy nommer.

Holiday Books

We're on our hols in England through the 12th as The Brother-In-Law is getting married. Aside from showing up for his Big Day, we haven't had much planned and have basically spent most of our time schlepping from tea cake to tea cake. With a brief stoppage for book shopping, of course.

While I am participating in the No Book Buying Challenge and am meant to abstain from the purchase of books through 2015, when I signed on I'd already decided that books bought on holiday wouldn't count against the challenge ... just as all the cream cakes we've eaten (and cider I've drunk) don't count against the healthy living standards I'm supposed to embrace.

Anyway, feel I've been very good as I only purchased two books, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont and Our Spoons Came From Woolworth's:


Mrs. Palfrey is a Virago Modern Classic Designer Collection hardback and just so pretty it makes me want to squee. The Waterstone's I found it at also had VMC editions of Barbara Pym's Excellent Women, but I reckoned I'd buy just the one and then pick up more volumes from Book Depository.

Spoons is a very pretty Virago Modern Classic paperback by an author I've been interested in since I read the Guardian review of The Vet's Daughter, a book on my Back to the Classics Challenge list ("forgotten classic" selection). Vet's wasn't in stock, but I was willing to take a risk on Spoons.

11 April 2015

Disappointing Fish & Chips

I can't visit the In-Law's without stopping at the chippy for fish and chips or a freshly made chip butty! Alas, the chippy of The Husband's childhood -- the chippy he's taken me to whenever we visited his family -- is gone. When the In-Laws took us to Freeport Fleetwood outlet center (so we could fill our carry on bag with discount Thornton's and Cadbury chocolates), we stopped at the Ferry Cafe in Fleetwood for fish and chips and I ate this:


It looks good, doesn't it? And it was a beautiful fry -- the batter was very crisp and light with no greasiness and the chips were as good as any I've had this visit. But. But it didn't taste of anything. The fish, which was just listed as "fish" on the menu, was tasteless. Ditto the chips. I ended up liberally seasoning them both with lemon, malt vinegar, and salt just to get some flavor beyond "crunchy" (and I'm well aware crunchy is a texture, not a flavor).

I can only presume there was something wrong with my taste buds, because the cafe was filled with a steady stream of customers ordering (and happily eating) fish and chips. Also, The Husband had no complaints about his steamed pudding and chips and cleaned his plate. So, ymmv, I guess.

10 April 2015

Tea & Cake

Walked around Blackpool center a bit today, peeking in different shops and enjoying our proximity to the sea. Of course, all that window shopping and fresh sea air can tire a person out and we had to stop for tea and cakes. We shared what the shop called a "Savoy cake" which was a tender sponge finger split and filled with whipped cream, fresh strawberries, and strawberry drizzle. It was totally YUM, but pretty much anything that involves fresh sponge and cream is going to be good. Or has been, so far. Yeh, we've eaten a lot of cake this trip!


We also enjoyed tea for two and the shop did that thing I've only encountered in the North of England where you get a pot of brewed tea with the tea bag still bobbing in it and pot of painfully hot water to cut the tea with or add to the emptied pot to make more tea. It's thrifty, which is VERY Northern.


Silas Marner, Part One: Chapters I - XV

Silas Marner is my second selection for the 2015 Back to the Classics and No Book Buying reading challenges. I claim it as "A Classic with a Person's Name in the Title" for Back to the Classics. I've never read an Eliot before and the challenge(s) seemed like a good incentive. My copy is actually my mom's, but I liberated it from the old homestead manymany years ago with intent to read it, but "so many books, so little time" &etc.

I'm dividing my "review" of the book into two parts, just as the book itself is divided in two simply because I've been reading a lot English literature from this time period and am trying to pace myself -- rather than overdose on it and go off it when there is still so much to read.

So, Silas Marner was an honest, if exceedingly naive, man of faith who has his life destroyed by the wretched machinations of his best friend, William, who persuades the rest of the congregation that Silas stole money from the church. Not only does the church turn against Silas, taking away his spiritual home, but his beloved takes up with traitorous William. Fickle, fickle love! Embittered and depressed, Silas takes himself off to the countryside where he ends up working as a linen weaver in a small village. His neighbors find him strange, if not downright suspicious, and his lack of sociability keeps him on the outskirts of society. Where Silas seems happy to be. Betrayed by kith and kirk as he has been, why should he trust or love anything else again? Better to put all his adoration and faith in the gold coins he keeps buried under some loose floor bricks.

Alas, the local squire has a shiftless and unscrupulous son who, seizing an opportunity, robs Silas of his gold. Silas is despondent and, for the first time, willfully throws himself into village society in an attempt to get his gold back. Certainly, his neighbors are interested in his disaster, but no-one seems capable of doing anything about it. Folk are torn -- was the money taken by a tramp, as some say, or was the gold taken away by whatever diabolical powers Silas consorts with?

So, no gold for Silas! But, you know, some sympathy from the neighbors is no small thing when you're a weird, myopic outlander in a small, completely self-centered English village. And then Heaven brings Silas a new source of gold in the form of a small motherless child.

You see, the local squire has another son who made a bad match by marrying an opium addict. He's kept the marriage secret and been bribing his wife to stay away, but now she's come for her reckoning. "Happily," she dies of hypothermia (and/or overdoses) practically on Silas' doorstep and the squire's son is now free to marry the Right Sort Of Girl and make totally legitimate babies with her. He's pretty sure he should do something for the child Silas has taken in, but not right now ...

Meanwhile, Silas is totally enamored with this small child who reminds him so much of his dead sister and, under the gentle tutelage of his new friend, Mrs Winthrop, he sets out to raise Eppie up as a proper village girl, rooting himself even more deeply in the village and slowly becoming One Of Us.

Have to say I am really impressed by Eliot's story-telling abilities. She creates a universe in a village, fills it with ordinary people, and makes all it seem both perfectly real and important. It's impossible not to wince as Dunsey so easily spots Silas' "carefully camouflaged" hidey-hole or mourn with lonely Silas over the loss of the one thing that gave his life not necessarily joy, but purpose. No character in this book is flawless or heroic and yet there is basic human goodness found in all of them. Well, except William, Dunsey, and Molly. It was a little disappointing that William and Dunsey, responsible for such wickedness, should pass so easily from the story without ever coming to account. And that Molly should be so one-dimensional when even the old parish clerk gets a full fleshing, well, that seemed unfair. All very moral, though.

In raising Eppie, Silas grows away from the lonely, untrusting man experience has rendered him. Slowly he opens his heart and becomes reconciled with his past. All the ways he could have become a sorrier or more wretched creature are neatly sidestepped by his love for this small child and, more wonderful to him, her complete unquestioning love of him. Don't usually see father-daughter relationships portrayed with this kind of sympathy or fineness in novels like this, so it's quite charming to see.

And, "Eppie in de toal hole!" What a scene! Mrs Winthrop has gently suggested Eppie needs some disciplining lest she grow too wild and Silas cannot bring himself to do the usual thing, like strike her, so tries Mrs Winthop's other suggestion, which is to lock her in the coal hole. Of course, he's made wretched over the whole thing and lets Eppie out at her first cry ... only to later find her popping in an out of the coal hole as if it is a new game. Poor Silas! To have gone from a young man of place and some prospects, to unloved outcast, to father of this little minx! And Eliot has written the scene so clearly that it is like watching a scene unwind in a film -- the small child craftily acquiring the forbidden scissors, the escape, the desperate search, the relief at finding the child, the grief at punishing her, her cheerful inability to be punished.

Reading historical fiction always makes me want to Know All The Things, so here's a few videos about how flax would have been turned into linen way back when:




Silas Marner by George Eliot (Harper & Row, 1965)

09 April 2015

Carvery & Cabbage

We stopped at The Squirrel, a part of a chain of carveries, in Bispham for dinner (or whatever YOU call the midday meal) with The Father-in-Law and his friend. A carvery is a restaurant or pub where baked or roasted meats are sliced to order. It's a bit like a small buffet with carving station (but not really?) and pretty common in the UK. Anyway, I ate gammon ("cured ham") and roast beef. And lots of cabbage and cauliflower cheese, because I don't get those at home so much! I loaded up on vegetables because, frankly, that was the most cooked veg I'd seen in one place since we arrived in the country. Chips ("french fries") are not a vegetable, you know, but they come with everything. (And I love chips, but they're not a thing to eat more than once a week).

Dinner plate with gammon, roast beef, cauliflower cheese, cabbage, carrots,
peas, roasted potatoes, Yorkshire pud, and gravy
.

We then went for a nice amble, because you can't eat like this and not walk!

08 April 2015

Wedding Tea

The Brother-In-Law was married yesterday and the small-but-lovely ceremony was followed by an elegant afternoon tea. Tiered stands on nonmatchy china was layered with savories, tea sandwiches, bite-sized scones with cream and jam, and small cakes and puddings. Instead of seating cards, we each received a gingerbread person (baked by one of the bridesmaids) with our name iced on it. It was all very nicely done and the whole wedding felt very individualized, which is what you want in a wedding really!

Directing us to the festivities.

Table set for afternoon tea.

Gingerbread person as seating card.

Bite-sized savories, sandwiches, puddings, and scones.

Ombre wedding tier.

Wordless Wednesday: Daffy-down-dillies

She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbour;
"Winter is dead."

07 April 2015

Shirley: The End


A double wedding! Isn't that what I wanted for Caroline and Shirley and yet ... frankly, their weddings leave me feeling dirty. Caroline and Robert have come to their marriage seemingly as equals, both having been tempered by time and experience, but since so much of that suffering could have been avoided altogether by just talking to each other (I know, Shirley isn't that kind of novel), it's a bit frustrating.

What follows is a bit disjointed as I am full of FEELS and insufficient amounts of literary criticism to support them:

Shirley and Louis have a real master-servant relationship going that squicks me out. It's what Shirley wants, she says. But she fell in love with him as a school girl and he her teacher and the whole "new" master-dog relationship smacks of a return to that juvenile state.

I just find it rather confusing, because Bronte has set Shirley up as a sort-of model for the equality of women. She is wealthy and independent, free to dispose of her property however she pleases, and marry or not marry as she desires. But then, of course she will chuck that equality straight out the window when she gets married, because she's a woman and everything she owns becomes her husband's under law. So, I can see why Shirley wants to marry a strong man (if marry she feels she must -- and she's no Carolyn, so necessarily bound for "natural state of marriage") who will challenge her, but I don't quite see why she wants a "master."
Tartar looked, slavered, and sighed, as his manner was, but yet disregarded the invitation, and coolly settled himself on his haunches at Louis Moore's side. That gentleman drew the dog's big, black-muzzled head on to his knee, patted him, and smiled one little smile to himself.

An acute observer might have remarked, in the course of the same evening, that after Tartar had resumed his allegiance to Shirley, and was once more couched near her footstool, the audacious tutor by one word and gesture fascinated him again. He pricked up his ears at the word; he started erect at the gesture, and came, with head lovingly depressed, to receive the expected caress. As it was given, the significant smile again rippled across Moore's quiet face.
Mind you, I'd been suspicious of the whole Shirley-Louis Thing since the above scene where Louis mastered Tartar -- his smiles so clearly smacked of foreboding. Shirley was proud beast to tame and Louis brought her to sit quietly at his side just as he did with Tartar. Maybe if Shirley hadn't delayed the wedding date for months or chafed at the bars of her matrimonial cage, but Bronte tells us that is exactly what she does and so it's hard to believe Shirley is truly happy with her choice. And I want everyone to be happy.

Tl;dr

I am very dissatisfied with the romantic wrap-up.

(IDK, Charlotte Bronte, but a lot of your romantic heroes seem like dicks and I have a hard time buying into the relationships you're peddling. Even Rochester, obsessive crush of my youth, is not a dude I'd recommend to any of my friends).

Anyway ...Shirley was my first selection for the 2015 Victorian Bingo, Back to the Classics, and No Book Buying reading challenges. I claim it as a 19th Century classic for Back to the Classics and "name as a title" for Victorian Bingo.

Shirley by Charlotte Bronte (Penguin Classics, 2012)

06 April 2015

Eton Mess, Yum!

While I've made lovely, lovely Eton Mess before, it's still nice to have someone else make it for me. We bought this beauty at the tea shop in Samlesbury Hall when we were checking out The Brother-In-Laws wedding digs. Eton Mess is a traditional English pudding ("dessert") made of fresh berries, broken pieces of meringue, and whipped cream. Ours had blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and mixed berry puree in it.


Samlesbury Hall is a historic house built in 1325 by Gilbert de Southworth and was the primary home of the Southworth family until the early 1600s. The Youngest Brother-In-Law insists, with all seriousness, that it is the most haunted house in England.



While I admit it's the sort of place that looks like it should be haunted, I hold no truck with that sort of nonsense and will only say that it definitely houses the most adorable bunnies in all of England.



03 April 2015

Heaven Is A Good Fry-Up

One of the things I love to eat when we visit The In-Laws is proper hot breakfast. And I'll eat one whenever I can get one -- even if it's for tea (or whatever YOU call your "evening meal"). A proper fry-up or full English breakfast usually includes bacon, sausages, eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, baked beans, fried bread or toast, and tea. Sometimes, it comes with black pudding, but that's "nowt so common" as it used to was, I have been told.


This particular fry-up was listed as "The All-Day Breakfast" and consisted of:
  • proper back bacon
  • split, fried banger
  • runny fried egg
  • fried tomatoes
  • fried mushrooms
  • deep-fried hash browned potato triangle
  • proper tomato-y baked beans
  • buttery, toasted brown bread
  • pot o' tea for one
I have to say that as much as I love a good fry-up, I not that keen on English sausages. They're always kind-of "bready," imho, as if they're more breadcrumb than pork butt. Drown 'em in brown sauce or beanz or fork them up with yolky egg and they're okay ... but not as good as home!

The Pursuit of Mary Bennet


The Pursuit of Mary Bennet is set three years after the events detailed in Pride and Prejudice. Mingle's Mary is a good deal different from the priggish, pedantic girl Austen too-briefly described in Pride and Prejudice and the change is a little surprising at first, but makes sense if you accept Mingle's premise that, with the absence of the older married sisters, Mr. Bennet has more time to spend improving his younger daughters. Also that Mary, having seen the happiness attained by her older sisters, has become more aware of of her own character flaws and actively worked to smooth them over.

I was willing to accept both suppositions and embrace this improved Mary. I was glad to see her with Jane at High Tor, enjoying the gentle attentions of Mr. Henry Walsh, even if silly Kitty did keep getting in the way. However, the baby craziness in the second half really put me off, because it was so unexpected and, well, a bit creepy. Poor lonely and unlovable Mary! Don't be another Lady Edith!

The Pursuit of Mary Bennet: A Pride & Prejudice Novel by Pamela Mingle (William Morrow, 2013)

02 April 2015

Airplane Food, Hurrah!

We're on our hols in England through the 12th as The Brother-In-Law is getting married. Yaaaaay. I'm not going to be cooking, obviously, but I thought you might like to see what I'm eating in England. My holiday snaps are always either random nature scenes or food, anyway. Hurrah.

Not-very-good-no-editing-stuck-in-an-airplane-photography at it's best?

This is the meal I ate of the Aer Lingus flight from JFK to Dublin. It's an upgrade meal which we bought because we didn't understand the booking process (here's a hint: don't make big travel decisions late at night) and thought we had to buy a meal or not eat at all. Anyway, it was really quite tasty:
  • Smoked salmon starter with marinated cucumbers, lemon, herb aïoli, and multigrain roll.
  • Grilled salmon fillet with dijon sauce, roasted potatoes, and julienned vegetables.
  • Mini apple crumble with custard.
  • Canadian spring water.
  • WINE. (Wine makes everything more civilized, don't you know).
  • Hot tea or coffee china service. (Everyone else gets crappy too-thin paper cups, poor bastards).
I saw what the regular economy class meal was ... and I'd recommend buying up, if you can! It's not that the regular meals looked terrible, but the $22 upgrade is good value.